A tabletop skirmish scenario based on a historic incident.
With the onset of the 1941/42 winter the Germans and their allies quickly found their units were losing all mobility. In an effort to reverse this, they ordered all formations to form ski companies. The 250th Infantry Division (the Spanish Blue Division) was no exception, forming its own Compania de Esquiadores, under the command of Captain Ordas.
After Marshal Zhukov’s offensive in December halted the German drive on Moscow, the Soviets turned their attention to Army Group North. By 8 January 1942 they had smashed through the German 290th Division along the River Lovat and had surged fifty kilometres to the outskirts of Staraia Russa (the main supply dump of X and II Corps).
In this war without a front line German units found themselves cut off and surrounded. Anti-tank battalion 290, commanded by Captain Prohl, was one such unit. Prohl and a mixed bag of some 540 men from various units found themselves trapped in the village of Vsvad on the shores of Lake Il’men. The German area commander General Busch requested that the Blue Division try to make contact and help if it could.
On 9 January Captain Ordas, with 206 men (including a German Sergeant Willi Klein as an interpreter), 70 single horse sleighs loaded with ammunition and medical supplies and their Soviet drivers, set off south across the frozen lake. Despite the temperature being minus 30 degrees, they found they were unable to move directly across the lake because, even at these low temperatures, there were still patches of open water. Travelling was also made more difficult where the ice had frozen in waves, sometimes metres high. A number of men began to drop out due to serious frostbite and a surprise encounter with Soviet ski troops caused more casualties. After over 24 hours on the ice the exhausted Spaniards finally came upon a German patrol. By this time the Spaniards had 102 frostbite cases.
For the next few days the company patrolled the coastal area and made firm contact with other German units in the vicinity. The company was temporarily placed under the command of the German 81st Division (General Erich Schopper) which was almost totally cut off and pinned along the shores of Lake Il’men, Captain Ordas established his command post at Pagost Uzhin.
This is based on an actual action fought by elements of the ski company and suitable for any skirmish set of tabletop rules.
On 17 January Teniente (Lieutenant) Otero de Arce and 36 men from the ski company set out on a combat reconnaissance patrol to the south-east. The Spaniards were reinforced by 40 Latvians from the German 81st Infantry Division. Moving through snow, which at times was higher than waist deep and with temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees, the patrol moved through a couple of abandoned hamlets before coming to Shiloy Tshernez. Here smoke drifting from chimneys alerted the patrol to the Soviet presence. Teniente De Arce ordered an immediate assault using the ski troops to out flank and surround the village and to converge from all sides.
Teniente de Arce
36 Spanish Soldados (2 LMGs) ski equipped
40 Latvian Soldats (2 LMGs) ski equipped
All men are armed with rifles and SMGs, some P40 rifle AT grenades and magnetic AT grenades.
Only one to three sentries and two men manning the Maxim should be alert at the start. The remainder take 1D6 turns to wake and prepare themselves.
20 men (rifles and grenades)
One Maxim MMG and 4 crew
After 10+1D3 rounds allow the following reinforcements from the south:
two T26 tanks
20 men (rifles and grenades, one DP LMG) ski equipped
Terrain and notes
We fought the action in 20mm (our favoured size/scale) on a 3ft by 3ft tabletop. The terrain consists of rolling snow covered hills with some small patches of trees. The village consisted of six to ten wooden buildings with some small sheds, wood piles and fencing. We placed the village in the centre of the table to allow for manoeuvre and flanking attacks by the mobile ski troops.
Historically the Spanish and their allies took the village with little trouble. However they then pushed their luck and continued on with the patrol to the next village where they ran into more Soviets – this time prepared. A strong group of Soviet ski troops, backed by some light tanks, drove the patrol back beyond Shiloy Tshernez with considerable loss.
On the night of 20 January the garrison of Vsvad broke out of its encirclement onto the frozen lake and was found by a Spanish ski patrol and led to safety. By 25 January Captain Ordas reported he only had twelve effectives left under his command.
The story of the Spanish ski company and its epic attempt to relieve Vsvad became headline news in Spain and was greeted with high praise by their German allies. General Schopper awarded thirty two Iron Crosses (both 1st and 2nd class) to its members. Captain Ordas was awarded the Spanish Medalla Militar Individual (to go with the one he had won during the Spanish Civil War) and Franco honoured the ski company with a unit citation – Medalla Militar Colectiva.
Agony of a Neutral by Raymond L. Proctor (Idaho Research Foundation, Inc 1974)
Spanish Soldiers in Russia by Pedro V. Roig (Ediciones Universal 1976)
Hitler’s Spanish Legion by Gerald R. Kleinfled and Lewis A. Tambs (ISBN 0-8093-0865-7) Germany’s Spanish Volunteers 1941-45 by John Scurr (Osprey Men-at-Arms 103, ISBN 0-85045-359-3)
Blue Division Soldier 1941-45 by C. Caballero Jurado (Osprey Warrior 142, ISBN 978-1-84603-412-1)
Uniforms and Equipment
The ski company was equipped with the two-piece white snow suit which had a double thick hood, thick soled ski boots, leather gauntlets and anti-glare goggles. Over the suit they wore standard German leather Y-straps and ammunition pouches. Several illustrations I’ve seen show Spaniards wearing Spanish Army uniform belts (these would be brown rather than black). These belts also had silver buckles (again not black). The Spaniards also wore Spanish insignia and rank badges instead of German.
The ski company was armed as any other German infantry unit – 98K Mauser, MP40 and MG34 but they quickly learned to appreciate the value of captured Russian automatics and would actively trade and buy these from German units, as well as scavenging off the battlefield. The excellent PPSH41 SMG and Degtyarev DP LMG were both highly popular. The Spaniards of course had the standard German stick grenades, round anti-personnel grenades and rifle grenades too.
We have played a few different games using various scenarios available on the internet involving the Blue Division. For this game we used a mix of Revel ‘Battle of the Bulge’ figures in winter gear, Revel ‘Siberian’ ski troops, Airfix ‘German Mountain Troops’ and the odd metal figure. Our Latvians were regular German Infantry in great coats (so we could tell the units apart across the tabletop).
Article by Richard Baber.